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Integrated Thermochemical and Biochemical Conversion Facilities

Behind the scenes access to state-of-the-art facilities

Providing industry access to state-of-the-art integrated biomass conversion facilities


ChemCatBio houses three state-of-the-art pilot plant facilities: (1) biochemical conversion pilot plant, (2) thermochemical conversion pilot plant, and (3) coupled pyrolyzer–Davison circulating riser pilot-scale system. These facilities are operated by highly trained engineers to minimize process upsets and produce high-quality data.

The biochemical conversion pilot plant is used for researching and piloting advanced concepts for biochemical-based conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to fuels and bioproducts. It comprises more than 30,000 square feet of high bay area, including space for industry partners to bring in and test specific equipment or to perform integrated biorefining operations using National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) equipment. This facility has a number of key features, including two in-line feedstock milling lines capable of formatting a wide variety of biomass feedstocks, several parallel front-end process trains for biomass handling, pretreatment and high-solids enzymatic hydrolysis at the 0.5-1.0 dry ton biomass per day scale, multiple bioreactors from 30 L up to 9,000 L for carrying out low-solids enzymatic hydrolysis and biomass sugar fermentations, a variety of separation equipment well suited to biomass process streams (filters, centrifuges, membranes) in support of multi-product biorefining concepts, and supporting analytical and bench-scale research laboratories.

The thermochemical conversion pilot plant, or Thermochemical Process Development Unit (TCPDU), is a flexible facility used to scale-up and test a variety of technologies including feedstocks, catalysts, and engineering designs. The TCPDU is capable of being configured for multiple thermochemical biomass conversion pathways including gasification with synthesis gas reforming, fast pyrolysis, and catalytic fast pyrolysis. This facility utilizes multiple types of reactors, including entrained flow, fluid bed, packed bed, and recirculating regenerating riser reactors, and has space available for partners to attach pilot skids to the TCPDU system for testing of their technologies. In addition, the TCPDU is highly instrumented throughout the process, including real-time online analytical capabilities such as molecular beam mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, thermal conductivity detectors, and nondispersive infrared detectors. A comprehensive supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system provides full process automation and data collection.

The coupled pyrolyzer–Davison circulating riser (DCR) pilot-scale system provides catalytic upgrading of biomass-derived liquids and vapors to hydrocarbon fuel intermediates and chemicals using a fluid catalytic cracking-type reactor. The system consists of two reactors that can be operated separately or in tandem: a fluidized bed reactor for biomass fast pyrolysis (500°C, 20–45 psig, 1–2 seconds residence time) and a DCR for catalytic upgrading of generated pyrolysis vapors and liquids. The DCR (500°C–650°C, 20–45 psig, 1–10 seconds residence time) circulates a 2 kg charge of catalyst through a steam stripper (product generation) and a regenerator (for coke removal) that allows up to 10–12 hours of continuous operation per day. Weight hourly space velocities between 10 (typical for pyrolysis vapors) and >100 (vacuum gas oil) enable a wide range of experimental conditions for catalyst evaluation. The supporting DCR laboratory has a Xytel attrition testing unit (to determine if novel catalysts are suitable for circulation in the DCR), tail gas analysis using online gas chromatographs, pyrolysis vapor analysis with an online molecular beam mass spectrometer, gas phase total carbon analysis with a Polyarc-equipped gas chromatograph, and an overhead crane.

Additional Information:

Biochemical Conversion Pilot Plant at National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Thermochemical Process Integration, Scale-up, and Piloting R&D at National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Thermal and Catalytic Process Development Unit at National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Thermochemical Conversion Pilot Plant at National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Coupled Pyrolyzer–Davison Circulating Riser System at National Renewable Energy Laboratory

National Laboratories:

National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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